Sharing your good luck isn’t selfless, it’s actually the most selfish thing you can do, says author and risk expert Barnaby Marsh. Why? Because it’s highly likely that an opportunity you pass on to someone else will come back to benefit you down the track. Luck really is a social force. “There’s a saying we have, that, ‘You don’t get lucky by sitting home watching TV.’ You get lucky by being out there, by talking with people, by interacting with them and engaging with them, letting them know what excites you and letting them know how your talents might be able to help them,” says Marsh. Some social butterflies will pass off their good fortune as being in the right place at the right time, but Marsh explains that it’s a case of purposeful positioning and there is often much more preparation behind the scenes than you’d think. Marsh also explains that there are two parts to luck: the event and the outcome—and poor management of the former is where luck turns sour. So why are some people so much luckier than others? It’s not that fortune favors them, it’s the way they position themselves to play the game. Barnaby Marsh is the author of How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life.
Barnaby Marsh: One big pitfall that I see is that it’s problematic if you’re not positioned to take advantage of luck when a lucky event comes your way. So people who are lucky position themselves so that when something happens that they can take advantage of, they can grasp that opportunity and make the most of it.
This comes back to this idea of lucky events being different from lucky outcomes. Lucky events can happen to a lot of people, but only some people in that population might be in a position to actually capitalize on those lucky events and create a lucky outcome for themselves.
For instance, imagine the example of a lottery winner. The focus is on having the winning lottery ticket, but what really matters, and what people talk about, is the ability to spend that ticket. So if the person has the winning ticket but loses it, they don’t consider themselves very lucky usually. But the person who gains the winnings from the lottery ticket and who uses them in productive ways is seen as lucky.
There’s an old Chinese poem about lucky or not-lucky, and it illustrates how different outcomes in our lives can have consequences that affect us detrimentally or positively.
So many areas of life where we think we might be lucky might lead to consequences that aren’t lucky. And sometimes things that happen to us where we think we’re not lucky actually leads to an abundance of luck. You take the example of a lottery winner, for instance. You look at lottery winners and sometimes a lottery winning actually destroys their life. And so the question is: Was winning the lottery a lucky event or not? Well, it depends on the outcome. It depends on how well luck is used to create other luck going forward.
One of the most interesting things I found, when we were looking at from a scientific point of view, has to do with how a very small advantage can grow over time when it is shared. So if you share a lucky event or the outcome of a lucky event with others who are likely to have future contact with you, that luck is likely to grow and come back to you. The most selfish thing a lucky person can do is to share their luck with other people.
And when you’re astute to many, many opportunities, by definition you can’t pursue and you can’t take all of them. But what do you do with them? The best thing to do is to share those opportunities with other people that you know who could use those opportunities. And as you share them you’re creating a bond and the preconditions for prosocial activity to happen in the future. Lucky people almost always share their luck with other people, and it comes back to benefit them in great ways.
And there’s a saying we have, that, “You don’t get lucky by sitting home watching TV." You get lucky by being out there, by talking with people, by interacting with them and engaging with them, letting them know what excites you and letting them know how your talents might be able to help them.
There are a lot of social butterflies out there and they might be working really hard behind the scenes to make more luck. And when the luck happens to them they say, “Well, I was just lucky. I was a lucky person, and it happened to me.”
But, of course, when you look more closely, many of the times they’re just prepared in a much better way. They’re positioning themselves well. And they’re able to avail themselves to more possibility than others who are not quite as engaged.